Relationship Pitfalls

Our discussion of Relationship Pitfalls when leaving fundamentalism continues from the Relationship Vulnerabilities tab. This tab is part 2, on how the lingering aspects of the fundamentalist mindset can affect relationships.

In this tab, we’ll

  • Finish the discussion of how past fundamentalist programming can affect relationships.
  • Examine our vulnerabilities in view of lack of worldly experience.
  • Examine pitfalls with a friend entering therapy.
  • Examine pitfalls if your friend (or you) is a layered fundamentalist entering therapy.
  • Examine your mindset if your friend enters therapy.


Recovering fundamentalists may have the feeling that they are not deserving of happiness.

How could that be? when you were taught that God desires your happiness? It’s easy. That happiness comes from the surrender, because your human nature was portrayed as sinful. Now that you’re back living with human nature, you have to make the mental adjustment that human nature is just human nature, with good and bad, and that we have the choice and the responsibility to develop a mature value system.

My grown-up brother said of his childhood: “Pastor C. destroyed my self esteem in Boys Brigade.” Such low self esteem doesn’t just vanish upon leaving the religion. My brother had everything going for him – intelligence, looks, athletic ability, sense of humor. For him, I write this website, as well as for you and for all the children undergoing such abuse.

If this subconscious feeling of being unworthy is carried over from your fundamentalist group, there will be plenty of abusive people out in the world who will agree that you aren’t deserving of happiness. Since this feeling of unworthiness is often subconscious, even if you think it doesn’t apply, spend some time with affirmations. “I am deserving. I have worth. I am to be valued.”  “I have my place in the sun.”

Speak your affirmation: “I am deserving of a healthy relationship with a good person.” Repeat.

Watch out for heart-head disconnects.

That is, emotional needs may contrast with rational thinking. Intuitively we know that the two should be in balance, but they aren’t always. Instead of stepping back and maybe speaking with a counselor or a wise friend, we may let overwhelming emotions sweep us along. Later, our head (with its rational approach to values) contradicts our actions, and we are left in a dilemma.

For example, a fundamentalist woman became close with a recovering fundamentalist who happened to be a lesbian. A kiss was exchanged. Subsequently, the fundamentalist woman fell into feelings of guilt and sin. The recovering fundamentalist was frustrated, wanting a love relationship with the fundamentalist but instead getting a crazy-making relationship.

The whole subject of homosexuality in the Bible has to be addressed before a person can be at peace in a lesbian relationship. The lesbian woman might logically have expected that this relationship would be crazy-making, knowing the mindset of fundamentalists on this matter.

Homosexuality is one example of a heart-head disconnect. Crossing paths with a married individual could be another. Suppose a recovering fundamentalist is sought after by a individual who says that he is married is in name only, that a divorce is in the offing, and that he would be most grateful for your friendship and in need of your friendship.

A recovering fundamentalist might get enmeshed in the concepts of “what makes a true marriage” and “emotional needs,” whereas a more experienced person would say, “Well, fine. But you have responsibilities to take care of on your own first. When you are legally free, give me a call and then we’ll see where we are.”

This example shows how simple things can be when one looks for the action. Is the married person trying to draw in the former fundamentalist who wants to do the right thing but lacks firm personal boundaries and can get confused with what on the surface may look like competing moralities (i.e., someone’s need for a friend and a marriage described as in name only)?

The recovering fundamentalist may experience a heart-head disconnect where a more immediate dilemma (the needs of a new friend)  overshadow the obvious, which is the inherent dishonesty not only of the married individual but also of an outsider trespassing on that marriage. The wife may surely appreciate an application of the Golden Rule here.

I believe that for some recovering fundamentalists, such examples bring forth a deer-in-the-headlights paralysis. Lacking the tools with which to decipher the human needs and lacking the personal boundaries which would extend to respecting the legal institution of marriage, there is almost a sense of time-stopping, where the emotional response superimposes over any rational process. There may not even be any rational sense to speak of in the recovering fundamentalist. 

Instead, residual programming takes over. This might include magical thinking about the purposefulness of the encounter with the new individual, the inability to say No because of lack of personal boundaries, the sense of election and of being chosen for a special salvation task, and so on.

There was an old Peanuts cartoon, where the bird walks alone into the woods and then emerges from the woods, with a number of little birds behind him. If we passively let life happen to us, we can get into a lot of trouble from a walk in the woods.

Recovering fundamentalists can get lost in the woods over definitions of marriage, when simple common sense would give a quick answer. “Fool, get your life straightened out first, and don’t involve me.” 

Where is the truthfulness at the heart of a married person who strays? Would you want to link up with someone living a lie? (And I do understand that life is not always so neat, and that sacrifices get made. It is not up to us to judge others in complex situations – and sometimes not to judge ourselves either. We do the best we can and try to learn from it and go on.)

Look for friends who have heart/head balance, who are learning and growing.

Cultivate friends who have a passion and are following that passion and making a contribution. As you get to know yourself and become conscious of your inner compass, think in terms of many potential soul mates out there. As you get involved with life, you will have an expanded circle of friends, reflecting various levels of friendship.

Perhaps you will recognize in others a common love of justice, a fight for human freedom, or a desire for holistic artistic expression. You can be surprised by connection with all sorts of folk who cross your path.

Think “red flag” when you feel a deep emotional discrepancy in a relationship

You may dither around feeling invisible for a while, but remind yourself that you are already hard-wired for an ethical sense. Trust your hard-wiring. Do not brush aside such a discrepancy. You need to find the answer to it in order to know how to proceed further – or not – with the relationship. You may be rightfully upset about something that the other person is oblivious to. Why is he oblivious? Why are the two of you on different wavelengths for something that may be very basic in a relationship? Emotional discrepancies are clues.

Don’t let emotional discrepancies float. Follow through. Try to get to the bottom of them, and see what happens as you respectfully try to talk them out. The question of why you were disturbed by something your friend said or did and he was oblivious to, is an important question. Why was he oblivious? What are the roots of this emotional discrepancy? Maybe he’s clueless.

I have learned some invaluable things when I pursued various emotional discrepancies with individuals. I have gotten responses like, “Oh, you want our communication to improve? That means you talk and I listen.” Noooo, that’s not what I had in mind. From another man, “Working on this with you sounds like too much work. I’d rather be with people who accept me as I am.” Thank you, my friends, and goodbye.

Figure that the odds are against finding a good man or a good woman. Learn to be streetwise. There are worse things than enjoying your solitude and being able to go to bed when you want.

Do not ignore these discrepancies, because they will return again and again. The sooner you come to a decision on a relationship that isn’t working, the better.

Recovering fundamentalists may be embarrassed at how little they know across the board.

We were from a culturally-isolated, anti-intellectual closed society. What did we know about current events, about culture, about intellectual activities? There’s a lot of catching up that we can look forward to. However, if we want to attract and hold an interesting person, we had better become that ourselves. We may be the one who cannot be the equal partner, and that would be sad. 

I was in that situation once. I was going out with an educated, interesting man, before he left me for an older woman he had dated in college. She was a much better match for him in terms of intellect and education and age.

I had asked him at one time if he would help me catch up culturally and intellectually, but he wasn’t up for that, since he had been studying and reading all his life. Something like that might happen to you, too. What can I tell you? You grieve, miss the companionship, wish him well, recognize that she was a better match for him, and continue on your journey, which includes continued development of your intellect and your cultural sense to the degree that you are able.

I remember being at an evangelical leadership training weekend in the ‘60s, and the speaker, an evangelical therapist, said to us, “When we look at each other, we are accepting of our brothers and sisters in Christ. When an outsider looks at us, he says, ‘Boy, are they sick.’” (He said it, not I, so blame him.)  We each probably felt that we were excluded from this unflattering comment… but we weren’t. You and I may have a lot of work to do. 

The limits on recovering fundamentalists are not solely the domain of fundamentalism.  They are also cultural. Those limits thread through the old foundations of every religion and the historical and cultural bias against the mind.  Whether it’s called the Protestant Ethic or the Bible there is an undercurrent from the past that anything to do with humankind’s natural powers is unacceptable and or sinful.

Reading the book, Bully Pulpit – Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I was struck by the self-education going on among young adults of the last century. Both in the Roosevelt background and in the Taft background, young adults had literary societies, where they might meet on Saturday nights to discuss what they were reading and other topics of interest. Edith Roosevelt was in a young woman’s group. Taft met his wife through a mixed group. How many such groups do you know of? What has happened in this country? Maybe it’s time to start your own local group. I belong to a long-running book discussion group (where we read the Goodwin book, which everyone loved).

Recovering fundamentalists may not be in touch with the realities of the world.

You will not be perfect, but that said, where is your potential friend in terms of reading and in terms of engaging with the issues of the world? Is he aware of suffering in the world? Does he have a passion for justice, for freedom? Is he aware of the huge significance of Climate Change? Is he a critical thinker? I once broke up with a good man after he disparaged my books and because I was bored with him.

Be alert to a “warm bath” person. You don’t need to be part of a self-centered unit of two, a co-dependent unit. Grow into someone who is engaged with the world, thinking and growing, making a contribution, so that a similarly engaged person will recognize you and want to be with you.

Recovering fundamentalists may feel invisible, like they don’t exist

If we don’t feel we exist, we’ll be chameleons, taking on the presence of another, reflecting their interests back to them. We may become a mommy to a man, if not a slave. A man might be as easily used and abused by a woman.

Work on affirmations relating to your place in the sun, in nature, your right to exist, to be a world citizen.

Recovering fundamentalists, on the other hand, may feel self-conscious.

Relaxing with another person, including sleeping with him, may not come easily. Trust and respect become more important than they might be for the average person.

Watch how the individual uses words. 

Is there openness and receptivity, or hardness and rigidity? Does he have to have an opinion on every topic? Does he have to explain to you, instead of speak with you? Are his words used to convey his inner connections and feelings, his humanness? Ask yourself if you might be dealing with a layered fundamentalist here, i.e., someone with a fundamentalist mindset who has moved on to other interests.

In communication, assess how open he is to new experiences. 

Perhaps he is not easily opened to new experiences, even when you bring them and drop them in his lap. Look for the clear and present evidence. He may be on a treadmill and may be comfortable drawing you onto one, too.

Is he a rigid individual?

Do you try to get inside his mind or emotions for communication, and there seems to be no way in? Maybe he has no room for another person in his life. He is all that he needs.

A friend has a saying, “Keep him on his stool,” like a lion-tamer, when you are dealing with a person who is rigid and has a lack of humanity. The alternative is to be thrown continually into confusion by who he is and how he is. You don’t want to keep him in a warm bath, because a warm bath turns everything to cement.

He has to do his hard work to develop as a human being with a gentler and more fully developed heart before you can have either a friendship or an intimate sharing of life. If he doesn’t do that hard work and if you stay in such a relationship, your spirit will atrophy and you will start to doubt yourself.

Could you be dealing with a layered fundamentalist?

As you work things through with a friend who still has the rigid mindset of fundamentalism, you will know at the right time, not just in your head, but the whole of you will know what the finale of this will be.  It’s that whole, the whole person becoming, the mind, the body, the brain, all together that is, in essence, the journey toward our humanity.  This journey is full of all kinds of hues and colors, all kinds of melodies that change from minor to major, from sharp to flat.  This whole symphony disappears with living in your head or in one or another kind of black and white thinking.  If your fundamentalist has any openness, he will have his work cut out for him, and you’ll see what he’s capable of accomplishing on the road of adult development.

Be ready to recognize arrogance, immaturity, or narcissism in a new acquaintance. These traits are not that uncommon. Such an individual lives in a cold brick cell, needing no other person. No one will touch his inner being, because he is all there is. Anyone wanting warmth and deep communication will not find it with him. Anyone who has a developed emotional life could not live for long in that cold brick cell. Sometimes layered fundamentalists live in these cold cells, too. That is all they have and all they think they need.

There is no room for a friend in such a person’s life. There is only room for a playmate, a bunny. That would be so empty. This individual basically doesn’t care how you are. Any personal questions directed at you by such a person would be an invasion of privacy because of that lack of caring. If you back off and stop any sweet words, how long would he stay around?

There may be no sign that you are a priority in his life. For you, to no longer be in a vulnerable position in relation to him would be a most important accomplishment. An alternative would be to have a dual emotional world within you, the reality and the wish, and that would harm you. For you to keep swallowing and hoping and building something out of your own foundation while he does nothing is hurtful to you. You can’t carry the communication and thinking and feeling for both of you. He may have no foundation for love, and it’s only your wish that puts the pretty into the relationship. Ask yourself if he is doing anything, putting anything into the relationship, building anything. When you have words, does he try to justify his actions or own a mistake and make amends as best as possible, changing his direction?

Also watch out for rigidity and judgmentalism in yourself. You have been tuned to seeing the world as black or white. That habit of thinking will not disappear overnight, magically. You have to catch yourself when you start making a quick judgment and see if it is the old black/white thought process at work again. One thing that helps is realizing that there is more than one way to look at something. Working through Katie’s 4 questions will also help wean you off black/white judgmental thinking. (

Now we’re up to our last topic in this section of Relationship Pitfalls (and Relationship Vulnerabilities).


A rough outline of this section is as follows:

  • Our lack of worldly experience
  • Emotional immaturity
  • Different language
  • Problem solving
  • PTSD
  • Anger
  • Addictions
  • Kindness
  • Healthy lifestyle 

We lack life experience and experience in relationships.

What advice about relationships would you give a person who is inexperienced in life? – to the child who was you? Give that advice now to yourself. Go slow until you know who you are and what you want. 

Your friend may be challenged in terms of his intellect, understanding, and intuition. What you need may be undeveloped in him. Depending on his age and desire to change, there might not be much potential there for him to be an equal partner. Try to take yourself out of the equation and look at the relationship in an unbiased manner. Is he healthy for you? Could you build together?

How aware is he? You can’t put awareness into someone who just doesn’t get it.

Is he too trusting and impressionable? Is he naive and looking for meaning for life? Could he get converted to fundamentalism? Maybe you are not the only one lacking life experience.

We may be inexperienced in relationships with outsiders. Many recovering fundamentalists might benefit from “practicing” with new relationships, learning to keep control and exploring what each is looking for in a new relationship. A recovering fundamentalist may be more attuned to ecstasy and to falling-in-love emotions, rather than to a shared path of growth.

With awareness and commitment to reality, we can have more disciplined control, knowing what we are looking for, examining the patterns of response and non-response in the other person, being aware of mutual giving (or not giving) with each other, taking initiatives or not, sharing growth, and assessing how much interest the other person is showing before we welcome a relationship. We can look for kindness and sweetness of heart, as well as probing for compatibility with the other person’s inner compass – if there is an inner compass. We can learn about ourselves in relationships.

Without self knowledge and experience, how can we make good choices? Try to take yourself out of the equation. Step back and assess a relationship as if you were a stranger looking at it. What are the good parts? Are there any questionable parts? What attempts have been made to trouble-shoot on questionable areas? What were the results? Is there motion to the relationship? Where is it headed?

Look for the whole picture. Your new friend might run to you to discuss whatever is bothering you, but he could still be a user, not someone you would be wise to stay involved with. Users are found in all walks of life, even at activities for justice, even with a beautiful write-up at or

Being emotionally immature when we leave fundamentalism, we are hardly in a place to recognize the same characteristic in a new friend.

Does your friend lack impulse control? He wants sex when he wants it? He wants to eat when he wants it? He buys what he wants when he wants it?

Some men practice a type of prolonged “foreplay” to tantalize and draw in a woman. They may let her dangle for a while, to rev up her emotions and desire. Recognize this for what it is:  manipulation. Once you are on to this with a man, his credibility will be damaged, if not destroyed. Life is too short and too precious for tricks. Love is honorable and does not need maneuvering.

We may speak a different language from those in the world.

Fundamentalists speak a different language than “human.” If we are recently out of fundamentalism, we need to be aware of this and to apply ourselves to learning “human” language. We need to close our mouths and listen. We need to apply ourselves, because this transformation to “human” may be a process.

Maybe being in a talk-therapy group would be helpful, to learn how people share and speak together, or even in a local discussion or book discussion group, anywhere that we can observe how humans speak with each other without religion in between them and how they problem-solve.

Recovering fundamentalists may not know how to problem-solve.

Too often our training was to “take everything to God” and to “wait on God.” Problem-solving might have been reserved for “new activities to bring in the unsaved” and “how to raise funds for the youth group missionary trip.” 

Interpersonal conflicts were more often prayed about than talked through. Talking through something could be fearsome, because we didn’t have opinions or experience to have the language to be able to do this, except in religious terms. We weren’t used to conflict, to argument, to disagreement, to having different opinions.

How to negotiate differences is a skill to be learned after leaving fundamentalism. Taking a class in conflict resolution could be helpful in learning how to communicate with others.

Is he a good communicator? Is he able to verbalize on his feelings? Does he want to work things out with you, work on the relationship? Does he put his life behind his words?  How is the communication between you? Does he talk too much? too little? Are there red flags that should be followed up on? Does he habitually make poor decisions and get defensive about them? What’s going on there?

Does he discount cultural or religious differences? These have loomed large in many a marriage, where they weren’t foreseen before. Do you have similar senses of humor?

A friend noted, “The first loss is the least loss.” Richard Burton said of Elizabeth Taylor, “She thinks she has to marry every mqn she sleeps with.” Move on if you need to. A lifetime is a long time to be together.

Recovering fundamentalists may be innocents regarding addictions.

Aside from sugar and food addictions and the (often unrecognized) addiction to religion, we may be inexperienced with other addictions. Even when a church youngster exhibits signs of addictions (eating disorders, being “boy-crazy,” or getting involved with drugs or alcohol), the parents and congregation may have little understanding of these addictions. The degree of involvement may remain on the level of “please pray for so-and-so.”  

The fact that a man or a woman can be a relationship addict, a sex addict, a shopping addict, or a gambler addicted to risk and excitement is not on our radar. I gave an earlier example where we probably would think that if someone is in Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s a praiseworthy thing. We might be clueless about cross-addictions that are common within these groups, such as addictions with other drugs, psychotropic medications, gambling, tobacco, food, sugar, caffeine, religion, sex, and feeding emotionally off other people.

We may not even realize that the mindset promoted in AA is similar to the fundamentalist mindset. For many people, the AA mindset IS a fundamentalist mindset. This is not to detract from the good that AA does in helping some people to sobriety. This is just a recommendation to grow beyond the “anonymous” groups as you recover from fundamentalism.

How much time does he spend with Internet games? Could there be an addiction there? Does he like sex talk and pornography? Could there be a sex addition? Is sex the core of a relationship for him? Is sex a substitute for communication?

Is he a spend-thrift? Does he have a sense of responsibility about his resources? One guy from on-line dating concluded that I was looking for money, when what I wanted was someone who could take care of himself and not depend on my resources.

Watch how the person handles himself in social settings.

Does he take a glass of wine, even though he knows that it will put him to sleep? Watch out for sugar or other addictions.

If your family has an alcoholic in its family tree, double beware of a co-dependent dance. If the individual was helped by AA, has he outgrown AA, or is he still tied up in their passive teachings, “A day at a time,” “my higher power,” etc.

By seeing him in social settings, you may learn something significant. Is he open and interested? Does he like people? Does he like women? Does he appear to like you? Is he a head-trip?  Does he have to be the center of attention? Does he snipe at you in public? Does he chide you afterwards for being too quiet or too whatever?

Be careful if he is secretive, not just quiet. What is his money situation? Does he present himself as having a string of bad luck? Is he always out of money? Do you give him money? (If so, talk with a counselor, seriously.)

Recovering fundamentalists may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Shock Disorder.

If we are “shell-shocked,” we are hardly in a position to start a healthy relationship, not with ourselves and not with a new friend. What we went through during and while leaving fundamentalism may well have been traumatic to us. There are many things that go under the banner of religion that are really abuse. Further, when we left our brand of fundamentalism, we lost our identities.

As said elsewhere on this site, do not underestimate what you might have gone through and its continuing effects on your life. You are strongly encouraged to get professional help for PTSD if you suspect that you need it. Do a search on “PTSD + symptoms” and see if there is any correlation.

We may be driven by anger, either obvious or hidden.

If we harbor unresolved resentment towards our background, the temptation might be to go to the opposite extreme. We are much better off resolving that anger, channeling it into something constructive, and being in control of our selves before we get hooked up with a troubled individual just in reaction to our background.

Does he have hidden anger? Is he prone to violence, jealousy, impatience, bullying? Unless he wants to change and is committed to doing the work of change, run.

We may have been so programmed in fundamentalism that we missed the forest for the trees on the simple concept of kindness.

In our church background, being kind wasn’t enough. Better saved and unkind than kind and unsaved. Now we have a chance to celebrate kindness, both in ourselves and in other people.

Underneath, is he just not a nice person? Watch for signs that the inner motivations are not good. He lacks compassion. He’s selfish. He’s impatient. He doesn’t like people and expects the worst of them, whatever. I once ended a relationship when my mother saw the man kick our dog. 

Beware of our indoctrination to be controlling.

We no longer have an agenda for everyone in the world, i.e., to get them “saved.” I occasionally feel like I’m standing with my hands dangling with another person, having to work at trusting them to run their own life without my direction. After all, at one time, I knew what was best for everyone and their brother.

We need to be in our own business, not in someone else’s business. We can encourage them to be their best and be with them through the rough times, but we need to monitor that we don’t have an agenda for them. Who are we to know what is right for their lives?

Consider that fundamentalism is a patriarchal, authoritarian system. Women (despite the rationale of the religions) are second class citizens.

 A lot of what we as women (and as men who want women to be equal with them) experienced in fundamentalism is also cultural. There is a whole body of work on this subject, to help us raise our awareness relating to our own equality and our own personhood. That work is found in feminist writings. It’s not just religion; we have cultural influences to contend with as well. Both culture and religion have helped shape us, and both have biases against intellectual freedom and development.

When I first left fundamentalism, I attended a CR group (feminist consciousness-raising group) for awhile. I learned from it but wasn’t ready for that level of sharing or awareness. Nevertheless, you may be in a different place and either now, or down the road, would benefit a lot from feminist writing.

Does your friend like women? A lot of men do not. Is he disrespectful? Does he consider women equals? Is he still calling us “girls” or “young lady” or “guys”?

Does he like children? Could you see him as a Big Brother? As a volunteer tutor? If not, why not? Does he have the imagination to enjoy the wonder in a child?

How does he treat his parents? What is their relationship? Do you like his parents?

Are you dealing with an adult? You may be an aware person, and your partner is clueless and immature. He may never have had to deal with a woman, just a girl. Yet, he may be manipulative and used to taming “girls.” You must be a mature woman when dealing with him. If he will not take significant needed steps, he must know that you will not be in his life as his partner. Put the ball in his court, and see what he does with it before you announce you are saying farewell.

Is he loyal to you? And you to him? Do you respect the privacy of your bond (unless you need to speak with a counselor about some emotional discrepancies, of course)? Do you talk about each other in a disrespectful way to friends? Do you bring concerns to each other first?

If you are a woman, take responsibility for supporting yourself. Don’t look to a man to do this. You may never grow up if you do. Further, if a marriage doesn’t work out, you may end up trapped financially.

The idea of having a healthy lifestyle may not be on our radar.

We only have one body, and it’s garbage in, garbage out. It’s a nice feeling to get to an older age and know that you have a good foundation under you. Perhaps you have eaten organic food for years, with low sugar and avoidance of white flour. Perhaps you have gotten adequate sleep and exercise, and you live in a healthy home and use healthy personal care and laundry products. We need to get back to basics here, good food and water, fresh air, and simplicity of living. Our earth needs us to cut way, way back on use of fossil fuels and way, way back on making more of us.

Since we probably didn’t learn about stewardship in our fundamentalist circles (other than financial toward the church, to be sure), we have to seek out information to care for our bodies. There will be some resources listed later on. 

If you are trying to eat in a healthy manner and your friend turns up his nose at healthy foods, perhaps you’d rather be alone. More than his choice of food, he is revealing a troublesome attitude to you. This attitude reflects a lack of common sense, a lack of commitment to health, and ignorance. Many people with this attitude are proud of their ignorance, to add to it. That attitude doesn’t wear well in a relationship.

A friend’s son-in-law just had words with his wife over her care of their child. She is giving the child far too much candy to eat and infusing their home with toxic gases (perfume, fragranced personal care products, air fresheners, and incense). The little guy is sick a lot, has dark circles under his eyes, and has to be headed for diabetes – at age 3. Would you want to be married to such a blockhead who won’t listen to reason? My friend plans to talk with the pediatrician and hopes that the doctor will lay down the law, because nothing she has tried has helped. It’s hard to watch this abuse of your grandchild, of any little person.

The story may be about you, not about your friend.

If you perceive that you are in a troubled relationship, you might be the only one who sees it. Your friend may think he is fine the way he is and has no desire to change.

Love can develop into therapy and into emotional usury. The heart can be turned into a head trip. Our heart’s eternal belief in human possibility is our great strength, but it can be made into a great weakness. If you keep giving and your friend keeps taking, the story becomes about you, not him. It’s about the dignity of self and the respect for self. You may have to let that faith go in relation to him, because if he wins you without making any of the changes that he needs to make, you could be headed for tragedy.

This is great human drama. You have to give him space to show his colors, and if he doesn’t give indication of wanting to change, then you need to let him go. Giving him another book or another poem will do nothing and may be a head trip. Share what is personal and real, but be careful of doing too much. He might not even notice your withdrawal. If there is no response, then understand the bottom-line here.

This is about you, about your human dignity and your self-respect. He would not be an equal for you. It can take a great deal of courage for you to let go of your faith that the relationship can work out. You will know when it is time to say that you are finished with an intimate relationship with him, so that your own life can develop forward.


A recovering fundamentalist needs to be aware of the vulnerabilities left over from fundamentalism when relating to a non-fundamentalist going for therapy.

Perhaps you have come to an understanding of how things stand between you. You know that you cannot continue with things the way they are. You are being dragged down and are increasingly unhappy. You decide to lay things out as you see them with your friend or partner. Taking the risk of losing the relationship is preferable to the current state of affairs. You write a long email to him and then wait.

To your surprise, he agrees with what you have said. He thanks you for speaking truth and tells you that he will seek therapy. Totally surprised with his response, you are flooded with relief and have renewed hope for the future with him.

Not so fast.

The types of vulnerabilities typically found in a recovering fundamentalist in terms of relationships also can apply to your relating to a non-fundamentalist in therapy. For example, you may have a disposition to be gullible, believing that your friend will be “fixed” and that you can continue with magical thinking into a blissful future with him. You may be naive, not realizing how deep some dysfunctions can go. You may assume that the therapist will see through him to the core issues – but he may fool her.

You may be controlling and self-centered, subconsciously believing that you know what “salvation” would look like for him. You may be judgmental, thinking that this therapist and not that therapist would do a better job. You may be “in his business,” not maintaining your own focus on your life and on your business. You may be emotionally clinging, coming from the loneliness of fundamentalism and having an off-balance desire for emotional closeness and a deep relationship.

Whose business are you in? yours or his?

It’s one thing to go down through the list of vulnerabilities and to better understand yourself in relation to the friend in therapy. It’s another thing to truly step back and stay out of his business while he is in therapy. He needs his freedom to learn who he is, where he is at present, and what the next steps for his life might be. But it’s another thing to be so grown-up that you can truly say and believe that it’s ok if, at the end of that process, he decides that he doesn’t want you for a partner.

How about that thought? Are you so ready to want what’s best for him that you could be supportive even if he outgrows you, or chooses someone else as his partner?

Remember the description early on in this website about decision-making? That is, list all the possible contingencies for a situation and then be ok with any and all of them? Sit back, and let your inner wisdom evolve with the direction that is right for you.

You will come out on top if you get to a place where you are OK with him getting stronger and going on with his own life apart from you. This may be hard for you to do, but it also frees you to embrace life and to willingly and joyfully be committed to the goals and purposes of your own journey, your inner core.

It frees you to desist from analyzing him and getting in his business. If you pressure him and try to second-guess his analysis, he may emotionally withdraw from you, quietly over time without being able to tell you about it, and you will have done it to yourself. Your friend may go through a very emotional time, and it could be a formative time for what is shaping in him in the aftermath. He needs to have the space to do that, without your interference.

If you get in his business, you might discover that in essence you are doing what you don’t want to do, that is, telling him how he needs to think, to live, and to feel.  He may not have a clue about any of this, and he needs his own time and some room to find out how he is feeling and what he is thinking.  You don’t want for him to think of you as someone who thinks they have all the answers.  That can be very intimidating, and then how will you ever know what he really feels because you’ll be calling the shots, without ever realizing or intending to. You don’t want him, in his own way, to think of you as a head trip.

There is nothing in the living world quite like the human mind and it’s this living entity that he possesses that he must now begin to look at and assess for himself.  There is also nothing like the human feeling of knowing another person is with you when you’re going through deep therapy, because a person is totally on his own doing this.  He can only ask questions or ask for something from you when he arrives at that understanding.  Be with him, but back away from sharing too many of your own thoughts and your understandings.

When you are free to be yourself and happy in being yourself, then you grant him the freedom to do the same for his own life. You know the old adage, “If you turn someone loose and he comes back to you, only then does he choose you,” or something like that. You can’t build on a foundation where your friend would really rather be somewhere else and with someone else.

So, while he is in therapy, all you can do is to be there for him and with him, as he desires. Neither you nor he has any guarantee of where he will be – or where you will be – when he finishes that process. He is taking a step of growth, and growth carries risk. But without growth, our spirits die.

“Katie” ( has a book, Loving What Is, where she speaks of learning to love reality, i.e., “what is,” because if you fight what is, you lose, “only 100% of the time.” Love reality. Find your meaning and your purpose day by day. As you are ok with each day, each day will evolve into a future that is ok, with or without your friend.

If your friend moves on, you can bless him, knowing that he is better for the journey. You will know that love is inside of you, and that what he gave you remains yours. Love won’t walk out the door when he leaves. And if he stays and wants the relationship as much as you do, then the possibilities of a true intimacy unfold before you both.

The letting go of the relationship, the putting on the shelf of the relationship, a healthful thing for both of you as your friend starts therapy. You need to stay out of his business and to be in your business. Taking this stance will help you to avoid residual vulnerabilities from residues of the fundamentalist mindset. For example, if you let him go, you won’t be tempted to control him or to judge whether this or that approach of the therapist may fall short.

How to be with your friend as he is in therapy.

The ice may seem to be melting, but you should not see this process he is going through as black and white and happening or not in a certain time frame.  He may be trying very hard to get some answers for himself and trying to change, but this is a process and it is a totally inner and personal set of things.  What you do and what and how you communicate things to him during this process becomes part of what will become his inner and personal feelings and understandings of himself in the aftermath of this intense experience.  You need to be able simultaneously to experience yourself and how you communicate with him and be able to feel what and how he is experiencing in your communications, especially written ones.  In other words, try to experience him by taking on the role of the other, because this is also an inner personal process for you, different than what he is dealing with, but a necessary inner, personal process of learning how to be with him for the longer range picture.

Question: My partner has decided to go for therapy. I don’t know how to be with him during the months (or longer) of his therapy.

Response: Be cautious. Back off, because you don’t know how the therapy will play out or whether the person that emerges from the therapy will be similar to the one that started with therapy. There may be limitations in how much will change. A wish is a powerful human response and can result in you getting too involved in his journey, too much in his business and not keeping to your own business. 

The urgency of salvation is also a powerful human response. Your wishing for him to be “saved,” i.e., “fixed,” may not come to pass. You need to stay in your own business and leave him to his business. With growth, you will either come closer or end up farther apart. Perhaps one way to think that will help is to put him and your relationship for the time being in the Unresolved Issues folder. You don’t know how things are going to work out, but you do know what you should be doing to take your own life forward today, tomorrow, and the next days. Be open to the possibility that even after therapy, there will be insufficient change. For example, your friend’s personality may lack the emotional colors that you need and the relationship simply is not going to work out, even with therapy.

Be aware that therapy may not be successful.

The statements under this heading refer to our inexperience with emotional and psychological dysfunctions. In fundamentalism, we are used to a simple salvation message: Believe this, do that, and you will be saved. That’s our orientation as recovering fundamentalists, but that’s not the best orientation for professional therapy. Your friend is not likely to “believe this, do that, and be saved” in short order in the therapist’s office.

There can be multiple reasons why such a simple get-fixed scenario goes wrong, such as:

  • Your friend has a hidden personality disorder that the therapist misses.
  • Your friend is skilled at conning the therapist.
  • Your friend is skilled at conning himself, and the therapist doesn’t pick up on it.
  • Your friend will do anything to keep you, except be honest.
  • Your friend fails to follow-through on the insights he has come to with the therapist.
  • The therapist’s methods bring superficial resolution but miss the deeper concerns.
  • Your friend goes to therapy but reverts to thinking that he is right and has superior understanding to the therapist. 
  • Your friend participates in therapy but it becomes clear, months down the road, that he simply isn’t going to change. An apparent turn-around may not stand the test of time. It may be without foundation.
  • Maybe you won’t like the person who “graduates” from therapy.
  • Maybe there was some damage to your friend’s thinking processes (for example, from drug or alcohol use or past trauma) that is irreversible.
  • Maybe there is a lack of awareness that stubbornly persists.
  • Maybe your friend leaves therapy prematurely. 

I’m sure that a professional counselor could add to this list, but these are the possibilities that come to my mind. Maybe you could add a few points from your own life experience.


We have spoken previously about how easy it is to mistake leaving fundamentalism with outgrowing the fundamentalist mindset. Many individuals who think that they have left fundamentalism because they no longer believe actually carry along the same habits of thought and emotional response as they learned in fundamentalism. We called this a “mindset,” and that same mindset, the same rigid thought patterns, is present as the former believer moves out into the world.

The end result is that this individual may remain a rigid thinker, sure that he is right and entitled. He thinks he knows all about other people and feels superior to them. He may be arrogant; he may be passive-aggressive; he may be judgmental, sufficient to himself. 

What if someone with those characteristics is your friend who now approaches therapy? Again, the therapist has to have his number, or the therapist may miss the root explanations for the way he is. Your friend, perhaps sincere, may be misled as to what the “fix” is. Perhaps, for example, the therapist is enamored of an older type of therapy dealing with “scripts.” “Your father was emotionally unavailable, therefore you are emotionally unavailable. That’s the script you learned. Now let’s talk about a different script,” or however they approach it. As I said, I have no training in psychology, so please listen for the ideas not the details here.

Your friend may benefit much more from an intra-personal type of approach, based on the work of Carl Rogers and Erik Erikson – but he may have chosen a script-type of counselor. That can be a real dilemma, if the whole context of your life and understanding screams, “No, no, not that one, look for an intra-personal therapist.” That’s where a hands-off decision initially can help you. If your friend later responds that he’s not happy with the direction of the therapy and asks your opinion, you can diplomatically raise a few questions or provide some information.

But other than that, you need to stay out of his business. Remember that we are not dealing with blacks and whites. Some benefits will come no matter what direction he takes with therapy. Your job is to be with him as he goes through times that are perhaps emotionally difficult for him, to be his friend as best you can, but to also be self-protective and cautious, for you do not know how this scenario will play itself out.

Here are a few comments relating particularly to layered fundamentalists and otherwise rigid individuals:

With a rigid person, the basic question is whether they have the ability to learn something new, whether they care enough to learn something new and want something better. A lot of times they don’t. It can take much courage to make such changes, especially later in life. 

When you are dealing with a mind snapped shut, whether from a cult or fundamentalist religion, or from having other absolutist answers where the fixed answers of fundamentalism were traded in for other fixed answers and recipes, realize that change can take a great deal of time, if it is possible at all.

Your friend may have abdicated his humanity, surrendered himself to not thinking and not feeling, surrendered to a superiority without a heart that requires no effort and calls for no awareness or attention on his part. Whether or not such a person can reach for something new inside himself may remain to be seen.

Back off, let him do his therapy, and see what happens. If you do nothing, you’ll have a better idea of who he is and whether he wants you or not. If you stop feeding him, you may find that he loses interest. You’d have your resolution and could move on.

If your friend is not clear in his own head that he wants or needs to change, you may feel that you are on some kind of roller coaster. Take your time, and go on with your own growth. You may well be the one to say when you are finished with the notion of an intimate relationship with him. And that moment will be when you have to do it for yourself, so your own life can develop forward.

Even if the therapist is good, your friend is still the key person who has to want to change. If he is rigid inside and self-satisfied, he could go through therapy and still be trouble. What he (and you) may be dealing with in him is something he himself has created, made of his life. His perspective on life cannot be separated from who he is.  It’s how he went about doing the major things in his life – his relationships, his career, and so on.

To break a pattern such as passive aggression and to change his personality and all that means is what he may need to be doing,, but even therapy is no good if the therapist can’t see it. He must do this himself.  He must, out of desperation, depression, or even just an inkling inside himself, change this.  Nobody else can get into that part of him.  A good therapist would guide him, but, still, he has to do the work.

The alternative is for him to continue in the fundamentalist mindset. And fundamentalism, that closed mindset, the automatic answers to all things, the attitude of exceptionalism, of arrogance because of being chosen and, therefore, not ever having to consider or value human beings, would all be very much part of his problem and our country’s problem.

Comments relating to maintaining your health as your friend is in therapy:

You may be way too involved in his situation.  If so, that’s why you might not have a focus on you and your life. Think about where you want your life to go.  What do you want for yourself as a whole moving forward with or without the partner you wish for?  You can’t wish him into the kind of partner you want so much for him to be.  Neither can all your words and analyses.  Are you certain you know exactly what his needs are?  Are you certain of what his choices should be for his life?  Are you assuming or taking too literally that, in the end of all this, he will want to be with you because he may indicate that now?

You know the reference to not seeing the forest for the trees. We can get so caught up in details that we miss having a perspective on the whole. If we took ourselves out of the equation and viewed the situation with the impartiality of an outsider, what would we see? What would our awareness be of the whole situation?

You may need a general growth of a sensibility of awareness and all the dimensions of action or non-action they require. Beware if your focus is on him now and if you have left yourself out of the picture and left your awareness out of the picture except where it relates to him.

If you have done this, you may miss some essential basic reality. For example, maybe it’s not his responses and their lack of emotional character that are the real issue. Maybe the real issue is that his personality is fixed and lacks awareness and emotional character. No one, not a therapist, not all the love in the world can change that foundation if that is what it is. How does one change the very foundation of one’s personality?

You can ask the question and know that recognition of the issue and the wish for something better are key and that the change has to come from within the other person…but what the chances are of that happening and how much progress can be made with a counselor are unknown factors.

Watch for the action. How does your friend respond to you? Is there anything that suggests a full response, anything that tells you he likes or loves what you say or email?  Beware of trying to do too much, especially in e-mail.  The big question for you to be aware of is who he will be after therapy, whether there will be a qualitative difference or whether he will be a version of who he has been.  Nothing you can do is going to change that. The change has to come from within him. If there is no change, you may not want to live a life with him in that context. Your spirit would dry up over years with such an individual.

Be alert to indifference on the part of your friend, perhaps even while he is in therapy. Both layered fundamentalists and fundamentalists can exhibit a kind of indifference that dehumanizes anyone who believes and thinks differently.

Watch out for your own emotional health during this time. Interact with others who are more accessible to you and who don’t provoke the emotional discrepancies that weigh on you with your friend. Learn from those friends what your responses are to them and be aware of how and where they differ from those with him. Think about and be clear about who you want to be and become.

A wish is a powerful human response, so is the urgency of salvation.  Make sure you know what these are and be able to distinguish them in your responses to him and his to you.


If you plan to see a counselor, here’s a suggestion: Organize your thoughts and what you want from the counselor on paper before your first visit. The organization might go something along these lines: “This is what I have come from. This is how I’ve changed. This is how I see him. This is what I’ve tried with him, and these are the results. The evidence suggests that (fill in the blank). I am stuck at the moment with a dual emotional response… a less-than-satisfactory reality contrasted with my wish for things to work out with him. How can you help?”


Ask yourself how much you speak in terms of yourself. Are you someone who seems to need some kind of permission to express what you feel and know as a person from experience and from your personal mission to find your humanity and connection in the world? 

Are you still using the word “soul” when you are trying to share something about yourself, your own knowledge about growing and what that experience is for you? If so, what, in fact, you are really talking about is being a person, and a self, about what that sensibility of learning and sharing is all about.  But, just like the use of “soul” instead of your “self”, that sensibility of learning and sharing may be always in terms of the other person’s need.  That need of another person may seem to be the only dimension in your understanding of everything you do, learn, know and strive for, everything you have grown as a self.  If this describes you, you may well see what your partner needs, but you might not be able to see what he wants.

You may be trying to give him what you perceive him needing for his life, for his relationship with you.  At the same time, he may have wanted that self you work so hard to craft and the dimensions of inner strength that may be part and parcel of that self, which can only be yours and which you may be unaware of. That self may be what he wants.  He might not have much of a clue about what that was, but that’s part of the natural human instinct to get, somehow, what he lacks in his own life. The truth of this may show through in his never saying or even giving you the feeling that he wants you. You may need to force yourself to look at the dimension left out of your thinking and communication– you.  When this dimension is left out of your thinking and communication, you are put in a position of vulnerability, to be used by him, or anyone else.  This scenario could be common for most recovering fundamentalists, because it is in line with their past conditioning.

You may have changed your personal development and cognitive and emotional infrastructure from fundamentalism by pursuing your own mission to your humanity. But the unspoken old foundation from religion may have been adapted, by default, to your personal mission.  It has the same caveats against a “man-centered” world that illuminates the sinful position of the self in the old foundations of religion, and fundamentalism in particular, and the caveat of the unspoken American cultural dimension of “selfishness” that comes from the Protestant Ethic that rejects the self in favor of “the other”, whether that be a person or an economic system.

The self is an individual’s personal composite of the mind. Its physical existence is the real base of an individual’s humanity, of human growth and development, or lack thereof, and contributes or takes away from the progress of the whole of the human enterprise.  And it’s the fabric of a self and the capacities of mind that sets human beings apart from all other living things. It gives a person the organic fabric of connection, of creativity of ideas, of thinking and feeling and the capacity to express all of this.

Abraham Maslow called these capacities, “Man’s God-like powers.” This is precisely why they are always pushed under the carpet into the shadows of our lives and everyday realities.  It’s why religion doesn’t recognize them, because they are powers that belong to people, to a person, and not to God or the power of religions.  It’s why there is a cultural bias against the mind in America, because as long as human powers are not recognized, money, business, and special interests can do what they like with people.  But standing in front of all of us now in this new century is this truth about ourselves, about the mind and its reality that has been pushed into the shadows by religions and the old industrial order.   Indeed, as Jefferson said and is written around the ceiling of his Memorial in Washington:  “I swear on the alter of God eternal hostility to any form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  So, you just need to be conscious of this value that illuminates all the others– “To honor  [my mind and my self] against the forces of tyranny.”


It doesn’t matter how many relationships you decline.  It matters what the journey is and where that goes.  Protect your energy and use it wisely. Choose your friends wisely, where you are able to contribute to each other on life’s road.

In the next section, we’ll touch briefly on a happy relationship.